British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland described Saturday’s convincing win over the Barbarians as ‘exactly what we wanted’.
Gatland’s troops outscored their opponents by eight tries to one in Hong Kong and the man charged with leading The Lions to a first series success in 16 years took plenty of positives from the opening encounter.
And while he admits the performance wasn’t perfect, Gatland believes the 59-8 victory has set his side on the right path ahead of their first game in Australia this coming Wednesday.
“It was a good run out and exactly what we wanted,” said Gatland.
“It is our first time together as a side and we want to look at the positives. We didn’t want to play against a team who had been together for eight or nine months.
“To kick-off like that is great for momentum and it puts a bit of pressure on the players for the next game against Western Force and that’s great for a coach.
“In the first half there were three or four tries we missed out on when we were guilty of trying to force things. The ball was like a bar of soap in the humidity and heat, but everybody looks good – no knocks, no worries.
“I don’t think they won a ruck in our 22 in the whole game and I was genuinely pleased with the performance. We only gave them four lineouts in the game and they lost a couple of them. The disappointing thing was that we conceded a try because we want to be strong in defence.
“I wasn’t unhappy with anyone in terms of the performance. I thought our control was admirable and we shortened the game up at half-time. To come out in the second-half, keep going in those conditions and keep our composure, I’m just delighted.”
Scrum-half Mike Phillips picked up the man of the match award after bagging a brace of fine scores, while fellow Welshman Alex Cuthbert matched that try-scoring feat by touching down twice midway through the second period as The Lions cut loose.
Jonathan Davies was the other scorer among the backline, with Paul O’Connell, Dan Lydiate and Alun Wyn Jones the scorers from a Lions pack that Gatland was full of praise for in his post-match press conference.
“I was really pleased with the platform the No9s had, particularly off the loose-forwards,” added Gatland.
“Toby Faletau was good, Dan Lydiate worked his socks off and Justin Tipuric showed again what a good footballer he is.
“The two second rows continually worked hard (O’Connell and Richie Gray). We decided to leave Richie Gray on because he’s not played for about 11 weeks and he was dying out there in the end! We just wanted to get some rugby in him.
“The impact from players coming off the bench also gave us a good lift. I thought Mike Phillips had a great game and Conor Murray came on and gave us some more momentum as well.
“We’re pleased with a good start and it’s a nice way to leave Hong Kong and to start focussing on the rest of the Tour.”
The adventure arrives in Perth on Monday morning Australian time, with the Force the next opponents at Patersons Stadium on Wednesday.
Gatland admits he is delighted to have got the Tour well and truly underway and, although he knows greater challenges await Down Under, he feels his side are all the better for their experiences in Hong Kong.
“The Tour starts when you get on the plane, but we definitely feel like the Tour has started now.
“We are well aware that once we get to Perth the microscope is going to be on us a hell of a lot more. That’s why it has been good to have some time in Hong Kong to bond and get to know each other without too many pressures.
“I don’t really care what the Australians think about that performance: today wasn’t about Australia, it was about us putting down some foundations. We will start concentrating on the Australian sides a little bit more closely from now on.
“Going forward, these players have laid down a marker. The players who are selected to face the Force now know what they have to do.”